The first time I listened to electro-soul artist SHIRA, I felt as if I was no longer controlling what I was listening to, but rather it was controlling me. It was – no joke- an out of body experience; stronger than the chills you get from a song that touches you in ways that you forget only music can do. Her lyrics so boldly represent the power that women have inside of them; listening to her makes me want to connect with every woman on this planet and just listen to them speak.
Israeli-born, American raised SHIRA began writing at a young age. Since then, she’s shared the stage with artists such as Coco Rosie and Tune-Yards, inhabiting vibes similar to theirs. While she describes herself as electro-soul, you can find elements of many genres blending together to create SHIRA’s unforgettable sound.
I had the grand pleasure of sitting down with ethereal goddess extraordinaire at Fort Greene park in Brooklyn, chatting while overlooking the Prison Ships Martyrs’ Monument. She answered some of my looming questions on her artistry, using her poetic charm to carefully craft responses as beautifully as she crafts her music. The interview below details her writing process and her search for her powerful energy to come out through her music. SHIRA’s video for “Myth” off of her summer 2013 release Shouts and Sparks can be found below.
Wow… I don’t even know where to begin. Your music makes me feel incredibly powerful. I listen to the song “Shotgun Wedding” in the morning like 20 times before I face the day, so, I have to ask: Are you a feminist?
For sure! 100%, Capital F! I don’t know how you can say no to that.
Now that that’s out of the way, how did you first get into music?
Well, it was always on in my house. My parents played, my brother played… actually my name means song and poem so they were kind of psychic. I started writing in a very free and silly way and just kept going with it. I remember being in third grade and writing songs like on little pieces of notebook paper. My brother was teasing me the other day because we found this little piece of paper that said: ‘How To Become a Singer: Step 1 – Get an Agent. Step 2 – Learn to sing. Step 3 – Agents cost at least $100k.’
Even then I knew that I wanted to do this – I didn’t even know what that mean, clearly – but I just loved it. In high school I was in all-girl rock band and then I was in a folk trio and then in a really loud aggressive rock band; you know, making as much music as I possibly could.
Where do you get your inspiration for your music – both now and forever ago?
Hmm… A lot of Beatles-pop. Like really good pop. I love that something can be really sticky to the ear but also simple while at the same time having its own complexity. So like – The Beatles, girl groups especially 60s soul groups, Michael Jackson, Madonna when I was little. In high school I really liked folky artists like Joan Armatrading and Joni Mitchell.
More recently it’s been artists like Kate Bush, Bjork… women who can hold up a whole mountain up with their voices. A lot of women are where my roots are from.
Did you look to the style of these artists for musical inspiration in general or more lyrical inspiration?
I just wanted to do everything. Some days I’d think ‘how can I write something as aggressive as Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.’ Or how can I make something that is fragile like Joni Mitchell’s lulling, bass shaped songs? I’ve always wanted to get into the textures – not as some kind of flattery, but rather as an experiment – I really just wanted to see what would happen.
I’m a poet as well so it’s really common practice for poets to imitate or to try a form on and see how it feels. It didn’t feel conscious – more like ‘OK let me try, let me try.’ The way my brain works and the way my creativity happens is a lot of quantity and the quality kind of seeps through. Some of it will happen, some of it will die.
Cool … so you’re a poet. Did that come before songwriting or after?
It was actually simultaneous. I was born in Israel and then moved to the states when I was six, so I learned English as a six-year-old. When you learn language, at least for me when I learned language then, my inclination for sound and words drove me to both. And my name means both so they kind of feed into each other. I write every day, I write poetry every day.
You’ve been making music for a while now I see.
Yeah I have like six other albums beyond Shouts and Sparks. I have a five song EP I did when I was eighteen years old. I was a heartbroken eighteen-year-old so I sat down on my bedroom floor and used a four track recorder to record my stuff. I also had a band called the Tiny Tornadoes which was three pairs of siblings, and it was campfire-pop or campfire-soul as we referred it to, which is also up on Bandcamp.
I also have a compilation of a lot of various songs called River Bed of Buttons. There’s a tightknit crew that has been following me since day 1, and there’s been more coming in the last three years. That’s when I moved to New York and decided that I wanted to make music every day and that I wanted to perform. Last summer I did a huge U.S. tour. I’ve been making music forever but the focus to match my intention to what I was already doing happened about three years ago. That’s when I picked up the sampler and that’s when things got a little more electronic.
Can you describe more in detail how your sound changed when you decided to move here?
I have this record, Lamps, which was all washed out electric guitar. It was done on a 70s tape reel to reel and it was done in this old mansion – a very wide, watery surf-guitar kind of sound. I was actually doing a lot of acoustic guitar at the time. I opened for both Coco Rosie and Tune-Yards that way which was so fun, BUT, I was starting to feel so limited. Like – how can I make the sounds that were happening in my head happen physically? And playing alone carries this incredible immediacy, and with just a guitar too – it can be really amazing and intimate. But I had this tickle to try more noises; I wanted drums, many background vocals, all of which the sampler allowed. In moving to New York, the sound shifted because I was able to play into this strange box.
How was it playing with artists like Tune-Yards?
Well the venue matched us up because they saw a connection with our sound. Merrill was incredibly kind to me. Often times when you play with other artists, you notice an energy to them and how nice they are; like you are just the opening band, how are they going to treat you? And with her we talked after the show, she was like ‘You have to keep going. You have to keep going.’
Awesome – Where do you record?
At home! I have a studio at home with a little drum kit, my electric guitar, my tiny keyboard…
So you play everything?
I try to, yeah. For the upcoming record that I’m recording in August with a November release, I’m going to have a saxophonist and a cellist and a drummer so I’m SUPER excited for that. But up to this point, it’s been all me.
How would you describe your music in terms of genre and sound?
I’m inspired by soul music. When I think of soul music, I think about a visceral response and about a buried emotion that needs to come out. So I look at this when I create. A buried emotion wants to come out so I have to get out of the way so that it can come out. I am always changing that sound that I am itching to create. It’s always like five months ahead of you but it’s there. So, I call it kind of like dark-pop, soul-pop, and electro-soul pop. I like it to have an un-hinged quality; something being released, something buried and soulful.
I really want to invigorate pop with a kind of elegance like the artists that I’ve previously mentioned. Kate Bush – her songs are incredible, and artists like Grimes – she’s doing that too. She’s creating these sonic profiles and landscapes that are rich and serious but also catchy as f*%k.
Yeah, I’ve noticed that there is this trend to reclaim and embrace pop music. It’s so good but it’s always been regarded as a very petty genre of music.
Totally, I totally agree. I think that pop is really accessible and it’s of the body, and usually things that are of the body are more critiqued since people think that of the mind is more important. This belief that rational is higher-up when that’s not true at all.
Definitely! Well, I just want to tell you how amazing I think Shouts and Sparks is. I wish I could put in ‘TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2014’ but – it didn’t come out this year. Though it’s definitely one of my top albums of 2014.
But I can definitely include your next album on my list!
Yeah, AWAKE ALIVE A GIFT ALRIGHT. Ten songs so double Shouts and Sparks. And I’ve been writing all year so I’m excited.
So tell me more about your video for “Myth.”
Well I think that this latest record needs a little bit of a push, so we decided to go ahead and create a video for the song “Myth.” I just adore the director – Jessie Levandov – she works for SIGNIFIED which is a queer film project. She did the Shouts and Sparks music video and now she did the “Myth” one. We got really witchy and weird on the beach so I’m excited for everyone to see it.
Anything else you want our readers to know?
I’ve been currently really obsessed with Ru Paul’s wisdom, outer space, and being hydrated. Creating from a place of openness and not from restriction. I’ve had this question in my head for the past two months – What gives me power? What takes away my power? It really feeds my creative space to ask myself these kinds of things. We are limitless creatures, but we are also very limited. I’m excited for the little footprints that this record leaves, and I have to have energy for that.
SHIRA makes a BUST debut with her video premiere for “Myth” down below. Get down with the energy that she exudes and take her advice, because this video truly gives you power upon watching.
Photos via Katherine Finkelstein, SHIRA, and MYTH dir. Jessie Levandov.